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“I commit to end caste discrimination and untouchability”

In August, following the marriage of a Dalit man to a non-Dalit woman in Dailekh, a remote district 375 kilometres west of Kathmandu in Nepal, the father of the groom was attacked and subsequently died.

As Dalits, the groom and his family are on the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy in Nepali society, traditionally regarded as “untouchables”. Caste discrimination is based on perceptions of impurity and pollution associated with those identified as belonging to low-caste groups.

The alleged perpetrators of the murder are the non-Dalit family members of the bride, a number of whom have been arrested and charged.

Dalits in Nepal experience discrimination at every level of their daily lives, limiting their employment and educational opportunities, the places where they can collect water or worship, and their choice of who to marry.

Caste and other forms of discrimination based on work and descent are not confined to Nepal and South Asia alone - this form of discrimination affects more than 200 million people world-wide.

Lower caste individuals are frequently confined to hereditary, low-income and dehumanising employment, such as manual scavenging, disposing of dead animals, digging graves or making leather products.

They may experience violence if they do not conform to social norms associated with their caste.

Child labour is rampant in caste and descent-based communities and children from thef “lower castes” suffer high levels of illiteracy. For women, caste is a multiplier that compounds their experience of poverty and discrimination.

In May this year the Nepali legislature enacted comprehensive legislation aimed at addressing some of the root causes of caste-based discrimination and its manifestations.

The new law represents important legal progress against caste discrimination in both the public and private spheres, making incitement to commit discrimination a crime, and setting higher penalties for public officials found guilty of caste discrimination.

The National Dalit Commission and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have now jointly developed a campaign to raise awareness of the key elements of the new law across the country, including in Nepal’s remote communities, and among state officials including the police.

The campaign asks all Nepalis, and others globally, to make a personal commitment to end caste discrimination.

Inaugurating the 100 day campaign, Nepal’s President Dr Ram Baran Yadav called for a combined effort to implement the legislation. “It is a matter of shame to know that people in the 21st Century are still practising caste discrimination and untouchability,” he said.

Policies inclusive of marginalised groups, including the Dalit are important for development and economic prosperity, the President said.

Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay welcomed the initiative. “Nepal has become a leader on the world stage in the fight against caste-based discrimination,” she said.

“For centuries, millions in Nepal and other countries in this region have suffered as a result of caste discrimination and untouchability. Let us hope,” Pillay said, “that the people of Nepal can turn this page and inspire others to learn from their experience.”

The head of the Human Rights Office in Nepal, Jyoti Sanghera pointed to the “remarkable progress in Nepal’s national and international commitments to address discrimination”.

However, Sanghera said promulgation of the Law was not enough: “It also needs to be effectively implemented, and the victims as well as their family members must be able to invoke the rule of law in order to access justice.”

Although the campaign will end on 24 December, Sanghera said, “its spirit and soul will live on and continue to ignite the commitment to end caste discrimination and untouchability, helping to endure the effective elimination of one of the most degrading forms of human rights violations.”

A special website has been set up for the campaign which allows people to pledge their commitment to the cause

8 November 2011

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